Skip to content

How To Conduct Market Research for Student Personas

Student personas are a key component of your inbound marketing strategy for higher education. In this blog post we will cover:

  • What is a student persona?
  • How to start your research
  • How to incorporate your research into your personas

What is a Student Persona?

If you are a marketing professional, you are probably familiar with the concept of a buyer persona. In higher ed, student personas are buyer personas that specifically pertain to colleges and universities.

Student personas are a semi-fictional representation of your ideal student. These personas form the bedrock of your enrollment marketing endeavors and provide valuable insight into your target audience.

Student personas are crafted using research that you conduct of real students and scenarios. This research guides the construction of your personas and helps answer questions such as who your ideal student is, what their goals and pain points are, why their goals are important to them, and how they are conducting their own personal research.

Student Persona Example

How to Start Your Research

Creating a student persona is not simply a game of make-believe based on assumptions. Student personas, although fictional, are based on solid research of actual students.

Consider information such as

  • Age
  • Geographic Area
  • Previous high school
  • Household income
  • Lifestyle
  • Goals and challenges
  • Motivation for attending college
  • Financial barriers
  • Career field/selected degree
  • Communication preferences

Even pieces of information that do not directly pertain to your marketing campaigns can help you to truly understand where your student personas are coming from and what unique challenges they are facing.

Step 1: Internal Research

One of the first steps in researching a student persona for colleges and universities is examining information that is available from within your school.

1. Leverage existing student database.

Your existing database can reveal a large amount of information that can be used for your student personas. Keep in mind that your current and former students have already been through the decision-making process and accepted your school’s value proposition. Look through your database to find information such as what are the average age of applicants? What are some of the most commonly held job titles by applicants of a certain master’s degree program? What is the program that results in the most students switching majors? Don’t be afraid to get creative with your research to dive deeper into the minds of your students. The more you understand your persona, the better your marketing endeavors will be.

2. Interview current and former students.

One of the most effective ways to gather information from within your school is to interview current and former students and their families. Ask them questions about their journey, why they chose your school over your competitors, and what their goals and ambitions are. Here is a comprehensive list of 40 questions you can ask in student interviews.

3. Talk to your admissions team.

One excellent way to conduct research is by speaking with your admissions team. They are likely to have insights you may not be aware of as they are the ones most frequently interacting with potential students. What are some questions students have during the enrollment process? What are some common objections they pose that you may want to consider? What are some pain points students face when enrolling in your school? Your school’s admissions team will almost certainly have valuable information that can be useful when building your student personas.

Step 2: External Research

Your existing database can provide you with a wealth of information that can guide your personas, but perhaps you are looking to build a new degree program or you are trying to increase the diversity of your student body. External research can play a key role in accomplishing these goals.

1. Use social listening.

Social media can provide you with a lot of information that can inform your student personas. For example, what are people saying about your school on social media? Who has recently liked your page? Who interacts with your posts? You can use this information to increase your awareness of how your target audience perceives your school.

2. Conduct surveys.

Surveys are a great way to expand your reach outside of your student body. Survey building sites such as SurveyMonkey and Google Surveys can be excellent ways to gather research that can inform your personas and further guide your research. Once you have created your surveys, you can send them to individuals within your target audience to increase your understanding of your specific personas.

3. Research industry associations, groups, and experts.

If you are creating a persona for a specific program or degree, looking into relevant industry associations and consulting field experts can help you glean insight into what students need in order to succeed in a given career field. For example, what qualifications are employers looking for when hiring speech-language pathologists, and how do these requirements shape a student's criteria for selecting a degree in speech-language pathology? If hands-on training is important in a given field, you might be able to infer that your persona values programs with internship opportunities. Keep in mind that your persona is most likely enrolling in your school with the ultimate objective of pursuing a career in their desired field of study, so they will likely be looking for answers to these questions as well.

Incorporate Your Research Into Your Personas

Once you have compiled your research, it is time to put your discoveries to use by crafting your personas. Use the data you have collected to determine what your target audience’s needs, challenges, and goals are. Create a story for your persona and include personal information such as where they live and what their financial situation is. Be sure not to neglect these often overlooked personas while you are conducting your research!

Remember that you are not creating a persona to fit your enrollment marketing efforts, you are creating a persona to guide your enrollment marketing efforts. Thus it is crucial to base your personas on the research you have conducted rather than to create “the perfect student” who may or may not actually exist.

Suggested resource: How to Create and Leverage Student Personas for Higher Education

Don’t Be Passive!

One of the most important roles of an enrollment marketer is to stay updated on trends in higher education. You never know when a new challenge might arise that directly impacts your persona, so pay attention to changes pertaining to student loans, tuition prices, school policies, etc.

Subscribe to the Enrollment Marketer newsletter to receive helpful articles and resources right in your inbox that will help you learn about and stay on top of the world of enrollment management and marketing.